This looks a bit more interesting than the outgoing Mazda 2
You’re not wrong. When it arrives here in September, Mazda’s new 2 supermini will sit on spanking new chassis architecture – the same basic platform structure that will underpin Ford’s new Fiesta – and will trade the boxy profile of its predecessor for these sleek and wedgy lines that are inspired by the 2005 Sassou concept car shown at Frankfurt. This is the second generation of Mazda’s Zoom Zoom designed models, and the idea is to maintain the company’s sporting intentions but tempered with more maturity and sophistication. It works – there’s a lot going on in the Mazda’s creased and curved lines and it looks even better on the go.
Bigger and heavier, as usual?
In a Mazda first, the new 2 will be lighter and smaller than the model it replaces. By switching to an all-alloy engine, increasing the use of ultra high-strength steels, introducing a new electric power steering set-up and following the same gramme-by-gramme approach to the chassis and suspension applied to the MX-5, Mazda’s engineers have trimmed an impressive 100kg off the 2’s mass, for a svelte 960kg kerb weight. It’s also 40mm shorter and 55mm lower. Caterhams and Lotii aside, when was the last time you heard of any car weighing less than the tonne? And Mazda claims the diet hasn't compromised the 2’s safety record – it’s expecting a full five-star Euro NCAP result.
So what’s the line-up like?
Pretty straightforward really. It will initially come with the choice of three new petrol engines – a 1.3-litre with 75bhp and 86bhp, and a 1.5-litre with 103bhp – and all three are hooked up to five-speed manuals. A funkier three-door version arrives next summer as will a five-speed auto and the 68bhp 1.4-litre turbodiesel from the current engine line-up will debut in January. Mazda will use the familiar TS, TS2 and Sport names, with prices ranging from £8500 to the £12,500 1.5 Sport we drove here. Spec levels are decent enough. The TS2 – expected to be the key seller – gets four front airbags, traction and stability controls, 15-inch alloys, a powerful CD-MP3 stereo and a nifty multi-function steering wheel.
Small Mazdas have never exactly shone. How does this one drive?
The budget-oriented drivers this car is aimed at are unlikely to have outright dynamism at the top of their list of must-haves, so they’ll be more than surprised by the 2’s peppy handling and outright agility. Ditching that 100kg means the little Mazda always feels sprightly and energetic, even if its on-paper stats are modest. There’s fine body control, a compliant ride from the MacPherson strut front and torsion beam rear suspension, and although the electrically assisted steering is wafer-light, it’s enjoyably accurate and direct.
What’s that new 1.5-litre engine like?
Apart from sounding a little gruff above 4500rpm, the new alloy blocked engine pulls cleanly and smoothly, returns 48mpg on the combined cycle and its 140g/km CO2 figure means its sits in a lower tax band than the model it replaces. It's a pretty high-tech unit too - it features variable inlet-cam timing, variable-length inlet tracks plus swirl valves to boost combustion efficiency. Despite relatively short 20mph/1000rpm gearing in top, it’s a quiet cruiser and only starts to sound hoarse above 90mph. It’s an engaging little package that delivers a genuinely spirited driving experience. And there’s even talk of a hot three-door MPS version arriving later next year. There’s no way Mazda’s existing 2.0-litre unit will fit in the 2’s tight engine bay, so bank on a 150bhp blown version of the existing 1.5-litre engine.
It sounds like a great little package. What’s the catch?
The cabin. Although it's incredibly spacious on the inside – sitting four six-footers is not a problem at all, and the boot is more than adequate despite retaining the same 2490mm wheelbase as before – the quality of some of the plastics used on the neat dashboard is uncharacteristically below par for Mazda. The swathe of dimpled dash-top material is hard and shiny, and the plastics on the centre console are prone to scratching and marking. And the dials are hardly going to win any design awards. Still, it felt solidly bolted together, and despite a steering wheel with rake-only adjustment, the driving position is spot-on and visibility is good.
Mazda’s new 2 is a world away from the model it replaces. With its snappy styling, engaging driving experience, strong performance and intelligent packaging, it dovetails perfectly with the company’s Zoom Zoom ethos. And kudos to its engineers for taking a stand against automotive obesity and producing a car that’s lighter and smaller than before without affecting its safety standards. It’s a pity that some of the dashboard plastics let the side down – it’s the only real box that this characterful little car fails to tick. But families on a tight financial leash will get a lot of car in exchange for thier hard-earned cash.